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Adventures in the New Testament - Philippians
by Pastor Geoffrey C. Kragen, Jr.

Philippians 2:5-11
“The Great Parabola”

James Montgomery Boice gives and excellent introduction to the verses we are going to consider this morning.

“IN THE FOURTEENTH CHAPTER of Isaiah there are two verses that tell of the thoughts that entered Lucifer’s head at the moment when he first rebelled against God. Isaiah writes, “For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13,14). Every verb in this passage, every image, points to Satan’s desire to rise to the apogee of God’s universe. I will ascend above the clouds, above the stars, above the heavens. I will sit on the mount of congregation. I will be like the Most High. Satan boasted that he would go up. But the words that follow speak of his actual destiny: “Yet thou shalt be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit.”

The second chapter of Philippians contains the New Testament counterpart to Satan’s words in Isaiah. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things, in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).

These verses have been called the great parabola of Scripture, for they picture the descent of the Lord Jesus Christ from the highest position in the universe down … down … down to His death on the cross, and then they carry the mind of the reader up again to see Him seated once more on the throne of His glory before which every knee shall bow. “I will go up … up … up,” said Satan. “you will be cast down to hell,” God answered. “I will go down tot he cross,” said Jesus. “You will be given a name that is above every name,” said God our heavenly Father.

This passage is among the most glorious sections of the New Testament. In these few verses we see the great sweep of Christ’s life from eternity past to eternity future. And we are admitted to the breath-taking purposes of God in man’s salvation.” 1

Last week we looked at these verses in light of our focus on living in the joy of the Lord. We aw that Paul was focusing on people as joy stealers and how a focus on Christ prevents the loss of our joy.

This morning I want to step aside from our general focus and reexamine these verses in light of their great theological import. In these few verses we are should the foundational truths of Christianity. These include the deity of Christ, his incarnation and glorification.

Verse 5: Paul starts this section by reminding his readers that Christ is to be our model. And as we will see the model here is one of servanthood or an attitude of humility. As we saw last time it is by following this model that we will not lose our joy though the behavior of people.

The dictionary defines HUMILITY (Heb. anawah, Gr. tapeinophrosyne). Humility and the related substantive and verb humble, translate several OT Hebrew words and the NT Greek tapeinoo family. The meaning shades off in various directions, but the central thought is freedom from pride-lowliness, meekness, modesty, mildness. 2

Verses 6-7: We see how Christ models humility in the following verses. Paul starts out by speaking to the deity of Christ, His preincarnate state. In this state we are told that He was “existing in the form of God.” 3

This is in contrast to what we see in verse 7 where the refer-ence is to “the outward appearance, which may be temporary.” 4

The reason Christ didn’t act as if His deity was something “to be grasped” or held on to was because this was His very nature and the incarnation did not change that. Christ was, is and always will be God! Therefore, since Christ’s focus was on His task, not His condition, He was willing to become “nothing.” Fee puts it this way:

“ Equality with God is something that was inherent to Christ in his preexistence; but he did not consider Godlikeness to consistent in “grasping” or “seizing” or as “grasping it to his own advantage,” which would be the normal expectation of lordly power—and the nadir of selfishness.” 5

For Christ humility was demonstrated in a five-step downward process. Swindoll identifies them as:

  1. He emptied Himself.
  2. He took the form of a servant.
  3. He was made in the likeness of humanity.
  4. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death.
  5. He accepted the most painful and humiliating way to die—crucifixion. 6

We see steps one, two and three here in verse 7. The creator took on the form of His creation. This was the addition of something and not exercising something else. He emptied himself of self interest, not deity. Kent expresses it this way:

“In summation, Christ did not empty himself of the form of God (i.e., his deity), but of the manner of existence as equal to God. He did not lay aside the divine attributes, but “the insignia of majesty” (Lightfoot, p. 112). Mark Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper, describing a son of Henry VIII who temporarily changed positions with a poor boy in London, provides an illustration. Christ’s action has been described as the laying aside during the incarnation of the independent use of his divine attributes (A.J. McClain, “The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8,” Grace Journal , vol. 8 , no. 2; reprinted from The Biblical Review Quarterly , October, 1928). This is consistent with other NT passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glories upon occasion (e.g., miracles, the Transfiguration), but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit.” 7

“ Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.” … “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” … “So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” … “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (Luke 4:14; John 5:19; 8:28; 14:10).

Verse 8: This verse lists the last two steps, death and even worse death through crucifixion. Here we see the central point of Christianity, the cross. All of history moved toward the cross, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. And all history moves outward from there. This is the center of God’s program for the salvation of humanity.

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

It was not enough that Christ died. His death in an of itself wasn’t adequate for providing salvation. This is why a number of attempts on His life were fated to fail. The efficacious death was the death of the cross. And the death of the cross was, for a Jew and therefore the God-man, Christ, the most humiliating of all.

“… you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.” … “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:23; Gal. 3:13)

These are all acts of humility, not just because being God Jesus went though all of this. But, He was able to go through all of this, allow Himself to be humbled, because He was acting for the good of others, the good of you and I. As Boice notes:

“In the first place, Jesus died to remove sin. And He removed it by bearing its penalty Himself.
   … The second reason for Christ’s death is that He died to satisfy divine justice. The justice of God
calls for the punishment of sin, and the punishment of sin is death.
   There is one more reason for Christ’s death. … Jesus also died to reveal God’s love” 8

“ Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” … “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 2:24).

This is the answer to all the world’s claims, and sadly those of some who call themselves Christians, that God will save everyone. No one will be lost, whether they accept Christ or not. But the arrogance of this is phenomenal. How could anyone believe that God would have put Himself through all of this if there was another way to be saved. God is the One who created this world. God is the One Who defines the way in which one can be saved.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” … “ Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Romans 6:23; John 14:6).

It was Lowry who penned the words which oft remind us of this truth.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me who again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon this I see, Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing, this my plea, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

O precious is the flow That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 9

Verses 9-11: And as a result of the humiliation of Christ, we next see the glorification of Christ. He does not glorify Himself, but He is glorified by the Father. God glorified Christ as a result of Christ’s obedience. This is clearly a case of:

“ Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Christ’s name, that is He Himself, will be lifted up over all. This is the response to His prayer in John 17:5. “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Jesus was glorified in the resurrection, ascension and being placed at the Father’s right hand.

“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” … “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 1:3).

This is the reverse of the steps down to humiliation with steps up to glorification. God exalts Christ and gives Him a name that is above all names. But what is even greater significance is that this name will be recognized by all. Keep in mind that as God, Christ’s name was always above all names. But up until now it certainly hasn’t been recognized by all. One day though it will be, whether those who name it want to or not. Paul points this out as a fulfillment of the worlds of Isaiah.

“It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” … “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” (Romans 14:11; Isaiah 45:23).

This is a vital truth for Paul. It underlies the command to make disciples because the only question for all is: Will they bow before the Lord willingly or bow as they face the judgment for their sins and eternal damnation? Though every tongue will confess, not every tongue will confess Christ as Savior. Remember, the unsaved are lost because they are in rebellion against God, not because they are ignorant. As C. S. Lewis demonstrated in The Great Divorce, those in hell are there because they choose it rather than a heaven on God’s terms. God through Christ reconciles all things to Himself.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making eace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

It should also be noted this chorus of recognition isn’t limited to humanity, but encompasses all created beings. Christ is the creator and one day all of creation will have the opportunity to unify and give recognition to Who and What He is. As Lightner puts it:

“No intelligent being—whether angels and saints in heaven; people living on the earth; or Satan, demons, and the unsaved in hell—in all of God’s universe will escape. All will bow either willingly or they will be made to do so.” 10

Finally, Who is ultimately glorified by the work of Christ? It is God. And Who should be glorified as we serve the Lord? It is He. And isn’t this finally humility? We are to do what we do, not to our own glory, but to God’s. So finally, we come back to where we started, our focus is to be on God, doing His will, as Christ did. Then, nothing can steal our joy for it comes from our relationship with God and our humble serving of Him and others. And so, we one day will experience the joy of naming the name of Jesus with all His creation.

Jesus, name above all names,
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord
Emmanuel, God is with us,
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word. 11

  1. Boice, James Montgomery, Philippians, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1971, p. 125-126.
  2. Douglas, J. D. and Merrill C. Tenney, editors, NIV Bible Dictionary, Zondervan Interactive Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.
  3. Kent, Homer H., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “Philippians,” Zondervan I nteractive Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990, Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fee, Gordon, D., Philippians, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1999, p. 94.
  6. Swindoll, Charles R., Laugh Again, Word Publishing, Dallas, TX, 1992, p. 85.
  7. Kent.
  8. Boice, p. 145-147.
  9. Lowry, Robert, “Nothing but the Blood,” The Celebration Hymnal, Word Music, 1997, #337.
  10. Lightner, Robert P., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Volume 2, “Philippians, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1986, p. 654.
  11. Hearn, Naida, “Jesus, Name Above All Names,” The Celebration Hymnal, Word Music, 1997, #86.


Chapter 2:5-11
“The Great Parabola”

  1. Verse 5 – Christ Our Model

  2. Verses 6-7 – A Downward Journey:
    (Luke 4:14; John 5:19; 8:28; 14:10)

    Step 1

    Step 2

    Step 3

    Step 4

    Step 5

  3. Verse 8 – The Cross:
    (Hebrews 5:8; Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 6:23; John 14:6)

  4. Verses 9-11 – Christ Glorified:
    (Matthew 20:26-28; John 17:5; Acts 2:33; Hebrews 1:3; Romans 14:11; Isaiah 45:23; Colossians 1:19-20)